It never ceases to amaze me the many different definitions of leadership. Working in executive coaching and leadership development affords me invaluable opportunities to meet with leaders and teams to learn about their challenges, their perspectives, their rationale for decision-making. There are as many interpretations for what constitutes an a “good leader” as there are ice-cream flavors because the value that leadership creates is so subjective. At the same time, though, we all (well, many) know good leadership when we see it.
So what causes some people to have great definitions of leadership and others not? Probably the same reason for having different opinions, influences, and personal experiences.
To help identify the “good” it’s worthwhile sometimes to understand the “bad,” otherwise how will you know what “good” is? Here are five leadership fallacies to dispel:
1. A good manager makes a good leader.
What defines effectiveness at one level will be the expectation at the next position higher, but not the responsibility. In other words, when our favorite fictitious character Joe or Sally get promoted from, say, a senior director to vice-presidential role, there’s a mental shift required to move from the tactical and operational perspective into one that is more strategic. Yet doing so isn’t easy because he or she has never been required to think strategically before. Mindy Hall, author of Leading With Intention, believes, “we still reward people for their specific expertise and then we attribute their skills to saying ‘Oh, they’ll be a great leader too.’ But just because you got great results as a marketing VP doesn’t mean you’ll get results as the a leader of an organization.”
2. Effective leadership is unique to the industry.
Quite the opposite. Strong leadership is strong leadership no matter where it exists. Sure, tactics certainly differ according to the field in which you work but the defining principles that wield the pursuit of excellence remain the same: performance, adaptability, leadership. Here’s a quick breakdown of each (more on these elements here):
Performance: the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual capacities that compose the individual, such as habits, health (i.e. stress management), focus, self-talk, emotional intelligence, decision-making, communication.
Adaptability: the skill and will to learn and unlearn, presented through self-renewal and self-organization.
Leadership: decision-making, communication, authentic self-expression that instills value in others.
It’s at the crux of these three areas where effectiveness lay:
3. “My leadership style worked here, so it’ll probably work there.”
Don’t be so myopic. The dynamics of personalities involved and the internal and external factors that influencing the circumstance vary from situation to situation. A command and control style, for instance, will work when there is significant pressure (i.e. time) or urgency to get the job done; when a decision as to be made and it has to happen now. However, try to employ dictatorial rule as an everyday leadership style and you’ll soon watch your followers follow somebody else.
4. Only leaders can make decisions.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the role of leadership to make all the decisions. There just simply isn’t enough time in the day to do so. What their role is, however, is to set the conditions for decision-making to occur. By conditions I’m referring to the left and right boundaries that define employee decision-making space, the process of communication from top down and bottom up, meeting flow, etc…
In the military we had something called critical information requirements (CIRs) that served as a decision-making threshold. Basically, the senior leader would identify the criteria that, if triggered, would warrant a decision to be escalated to his/her level; unless those conditions were met, direct reports were free to make their own decisions based on the common purpose understood by all. Something else this CIRs served allowed was freeing up the leader to focus on the business rather than on your business.
5. Leaders have very little time for anything else.
If I could drop an expletive here I would, but we’ll have to settle for its acronym: BS. People don’t manage time they manage their priorities, so when somebody says, “I don’t have time for that” what that person is really saying is, “That’s not important to me right now.” Steve Gilliland, author of Detour, recommends leaders “decide what’s important and never take it for granted. It’s not until you’re about to die do you realize the value of 30 minutes.”
Written by Jeff Boss